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Kirin Brewery Co. overtook Asahi Breweries Ltd. in terms of shipments of beer and beerlike drinks in the January-June period for the first time in five years, industry figures showed Wednesday.

Kirin shipped 1,098,736 kiloliters, the equivalent of 86.79 million cases, during the period, compared with Asahi’s 1,088,267 kiloliters, or 85.96 million cases. One case holds 20 633-ml bottles.

Kirin held a 37.6 percent market share in the first half of the year, a touch higher than Asahi’s 37.3 percent.

Kirin officials said the company hopes to grab the top slot in the beer industry for all of 2006.

If Kirin succeeds in keeping its lead in shipments of beer and beerlike drinks for the whole year, it will be the first time it has knocked Asahi from the top spot in six years.

Kirin officials said strong sales of its Enjuku low-malt beer and Nodogoshi Nama “third-category” beer helped boost its first-half sales.

In contrast, Asahi’s numbers took a hit from slow sales of its low-malt beer, a category known as “happoshu.” Sluggish happoshu sales at Asahi outweighed a rise in shipments of its mainstay Super Dry beer, industry officials said.

Although Asahi worked harder to catch up with Kirin in June in its sales to restaurants, and through a marketing campaign focusing on the summer gift-giving season, it was unable to hold onto the No. 1 position.

Among Japan’s three other major brewers, Sapporo Breweries Ltd., the beer-brewing arm of Sapporo Holdings Ltd., held a 13.1 percent share, Suntory Ltd. had 11.2 percent and Orion Breweries Ltd. had 0.8 percent.

By product category, Asahi held the top spot in the beer market, while Kirin secured first place in both the happoshu and third-category beer markets.

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